Of the huge DVD collection owned by the Classic Cinema Examiner, a dozen titles are based with The Criterion Collection. Die-hard classic film lovers may be familiar with this label, especially since they take on different types of films – blockbusters, cult classics, landmark films from all over the world. To wrap up this three-part series on this Examiner’s Criterion discs, here are four more to look up (especially one that may be hard-to-find):
Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985) Spine #316
If one director’s legacy has seen an increased benefit from Criterion, it has to be Kurosawa. Nearly fifteen years after his death, almost every major film Kurosawa directed has seen some sort of Criterion release. This landmark action drama inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear had received several DVD treatments, but it was not until Criterion’s 2005 release that saw the film get the pristine treatment it deserved. Kurosawa was in his mid-70s when he directed this film, a stunning look at a Japanese emperor (Tatsuya Nakadai) and his three sons fighting for their father’s power and control. The two-disc affair showcases Kurosawa making the film (through new and archive featurettes), and even how he used paintings to illustrate the vision he wanted to create – an idea he also utilized for his other ’80s classic, Kagemusha. Yet for any Kurosawa fan who lacks this title in their collection, they may have to go on eBay – the Criterion website has Ran listed as “out of print.”
The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939) Spine #216
This French comedy of manners nearly missed being hailed as a classic – the French audience around the time of its release dismissed it, and the film’s negative was destroyed. Yet a 1950s reconstruction salvaged the film, and gave Renoir a new respect from world cinema enthusiasts. This film chronicles a group of middle-class bourgeois folks – including a famous pilot, the woman he lost, her new husband, the pilot’s friend, and others – at a country estate. Renoir not only directed and co-wrote the film, but also appears as Octave, the pilot’s trusted friend. The two-disc Criterion DVD featured an audio commentary with two notable experts in Alexander Sesonske (writing) and Peter Bogdanovich (narration). The second disc offers plenty of background on the making of the film and on Renoir, with 2004 interviews featuring Renoir’s son Alain and the men who restored the film to greatness. There are also written tributes from notable filmmakers such as Wim Wenders, Francois Truffaut and Bertrand Tavernier.
The Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954) Spine #2, original 1-disc version
While this Examiner has not been able to upgrade to the mammoth three-disc affair given to Kurosawa’s action-filled masterpiece (thus making it the definitive DVD), the one-disc treatment the film originally received can be seen as a great example of what Criterion discs tended to be before they stepped their game up. For those who don’t know the story of this film, a Japanese village is being attacked by bandits – and the village residents hire seven samurai (with long-time Kurosawa stars Toshiro Mifune & Takashi Shimura among them) to protect them. The one-disc DVD contains the U.S. trailer and Japanese film historian Michael Jeck providing commentary – those features would be replicated for the later edition.
Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960) Spine #105
Kubrick’s earlier work is recently getting newly-expanded treatment from Criterion (with Paths of Glory, The Killing and Killer’s Kiss receiving respect from the brand). The brand’s love for the legendary director actually began with this 1960 Oscar-winning epic, restored to its original greatness in 1991. Kirk Douglas starred in the title role, a slave whose guts, determination and iron toughness led a revolt in the days of the Roman Empire. Douglas (who also executive produced) was joined by a top-notch cast featuring Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis and Peter Ustinov (in an Oscar-winning role). The DVD extras not only cover the making of the film, but also one of the film’s more notable feats: bringing screenwriter Dalton Trumbo out of the blacklist and back into the spotlight. A documentary on the Hollywood Ten and Trumbo’s screenplay breakdown are prominent on the two-disc affair.
DVDs for the Criterion Collection end up doing more than just showcasing the films in their best light, with regards to picture and sound. They sometimes go above and beyond the film, providing special features displaying not only the making of the film, but certain traits that made those films great. If no one has ever owned a single Criterion title, they should look them up – now. The quality of films, the quality of extras – everything on a Criterion DVD and/or Blu-ray is excellent, and certainly of a higher quality than most companies who handle DVD’s. And that includes the major studios.